Deng bright in dim effort

VehiclesChicago BullsAdrian GriffinTracy McGradyAndres NocioniDikembe Mutombo

Dikembe Mutombo, a Bull for 33 days over the summer, smiled Thursday night when asked if he was happy as a Rocket.

"Very," the veteran center said. "There was nothing personal [against Chicago]. I just didn't want to go to a rebuilding process. I'm close to the end of my career, and if I wasn't going to stay in New York, I wanted to go somewhere with a chance to win a championship."

The Bulls are far from that.

A 98-78 loss to Houston before a small, Astros-watching crowd at the Toyota Center served as another reminder.

The Bulls, led by Luol Deng's 20 points, fell to 2-3 in exhibition play, thanks mostly to 25 turnovers and poor defense.

Tracy McGrady, checked mostly by Andres Nocioni, scored 27 to lead Houston.

"It's a good learning experience for Andres and Luol to guard the league's leading scorer," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said.

Deng's output featured a dunk over Mutombo as he continued to display aggressiveness on the offensive end.

Mutombo, acquired from New York in the Jamal Crawford trade, quickly became Eric Piatkowski, Adrian Griffin and Mike Wilks, who was waived on Wednesday.

Piatkowski didn't play against Houston and is shooting just 23 percent in limited exhibition action. But he has shot 40 percent from three-point range over his 10-year career and the coaching staff is confident he will heat up when the action counts.

Piatkowski is just happy to get a fresh start. An ankle injury limited him to 49 games with Houston last season, his lowest total ever.

"Frustrating," Piatkowski said. "It was the first time I had been injured and out for an extended period of time. I was never 100 percent—not even really close—at any point in the season. I worked hard all summer getting my ankle back to 100 percent. It feels good now."

Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said Piatkowski would contribute no matter what his role is.

"He handled himself with total class and dignity," Van Gundy said. "He's one of the best teammates I've ever seen as far as being into the game and into the success of players who even were ahead of him [in the rotation]. And he played well when he did play for us."

But Van Gundy is also happy he now has Mutombo.

Bulls general manager John Paxson was prepared to make a recruiting trip to sell his philosophy to Mutombo if the right deal didn't transpire. It did.

"I talked to Pax on the phone three times, and he was very pleasant," Mutombo said. "We had long conversations. I told him the reason I was asking for a trade was because I wanted to win a championship. I thank John for making everything possible."

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